A Shower of Gold

Last Sunday as I was walking up to the entrance of our church, our young priest was outside to greet us. He was in his immaculate white cassock with an dark apple green surplice, and fastened around his waist was a white cincture cord tied in a luscious knot. Behind him the sun was shining through an oak tree that was blazing red, yellow, orange. It was a magnificent panoply of color and light.

As I made my way to my pew, to settle in and let go and breathe, I had a memory that I hadn’t had for a long time. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was staying with us during the fall. He was ill, gravely ill we were soon to learn. He was a lovely man, charming, affectionate, outgoing, funny  and easygoing — everyone loved him. He was also a bit of a Beau Brummell, but in a good way, he always looked amazing and he made it look easy. But that fall his heart was failing him, and maybe in the back of all of our minds we knew it.

My grandfather would sit in my father’s study which had a nice comfortable chair that seemed to ease his distress. The chair faced a window which looked out onto the fairly vast front lawn of my family home. Right near the window was a very old and very large oak tree — majestic and much loved. We had all climbed it, swung on it, and the tree tolerated us all. Every fall it would turn the most exquisite shade of brilliant yellow gold and the glow would fill the room with a warm cast. I remember my grandfather sitting in the chair with the light was hitting the tree just right, and it was a vision moment like the one I just described from last Sunday where I think we really see — we see the true perfection of all things. My grandfather was wearing a camel hair sweater and an oxblood ascot and he looked wonderful. He had these lovely light hazel eyes and he was staring out onto the view. I remember him remarking to us how beautiful a sight that tree was, with the golden leaves still on the branches and the glorious pool of yellow leaves beneath. It gave him comfort and his remark compelled us to look at the beauty which we took a little bit for granted because it had always been there. We all surrounded him, standing by his chair or sitting on the floor beside him, and we all shared the moment.

He died at the end of November — his heart was enlarged — too big my mother said. I think of that moment with all of us there and fast forward to now. Everyone, except me, is gone. I see that image and there is almost a cinematic effect of each of the players in the tableau gradually fading and disappearing. The house is gone too, and that tree that stood for so many generations is gone as well I am told. It’s a precious memory. I remember then, and it still reminds me of it now, of the myth of Danae. Apparently Zeus fell in love with this princess and impregnated her with Perseus by visiting her in the form of a shower of gold. There are quite a few ancient depictions and Renaissance paintings of this myth but I think my favorite one is Titian’s.

I haven’t read all of Freud, but some, and wonder how he missed the heavy “symbolism?” of this myth. We all know that the Oedipal one has been done to death, and for those more interested, the Electra one as well. Just wondering what Freud would have made of it. But the encounter of Zeus and Danae I suppose was glorious, and it yielded a great hero. For Danae the shower of gold was an entrance into fecundity and birth; it was the inverse for my grandfather — those were his last days until he exited our lives but not our hearts. But the tree, our giving tree, and that my grandfather was surrounded by his children and grandchildren and his wife, my grandmother, whom he adored – I think eased his passage, and he enjoyed the splendor of his shower of gold.

Clare Irwin

P.S. I also love Correggio’s and Klimt’s interpretations of Danae….

On the Corner of Cranky and Crabby

CrankyOk, the heat is getting to everyone. Sunday mornings I attend church and I love the fact that it’s not air conditioned – it’s an old stone building which stays fairly cool. There’s lots of fans and it’s nice because the windows are open and you can see the trees and hear the birds. I know I’m in the minority about the a/c. Today is relentlessly hot with no breeze and everyone was a bit sticky after an hour of service. I hung around for refreshments, and had a pleasant conversation with an acquaintance about a recent business trip she made to Singapore.. There was also some Pokémon contest afterwards, but not many people hung around because it was too hot.  One guy said, in the context of the Pokémon event, “Soon we’ll all be living inside our phones!” That statement was received by the two women standing next to him with crabby grumbles.  I could feel the crankiness descending on my fellow parishioners, so I left. Crab

I took a walk around the water which was fairly deserted. Everyone had retreated to the indoors and the cool. I did encounter a father with a baby in a stroller and a little boy around 3 or 4 years old. Cute as a button and he was pushing his bike along beside him. He stopped and turned to me — big blue eyes and light brown curls and said, “Hello my name is Brooks.” I introduced myself and told him I was happy to make his acquaintance. His father was busy on his phone and gave this exchange no attention (maybe he was playing Pokémon?). I also saw some dogs at the dog park having a great time drinking from and playing with a garden hose.

Then I went to the supermarket where everyone seemed to be in a bad mood. Two kids were fighting over a phone — Pokémon again?. While I was there I got a call from one of my kids who unbeknownst to me is on a camping trip in Vermont. The tentative plan of not letting the entire summer go by without reading or maybe thinking about college or whatever seemed entirely forgotten. So now I’m hearing myself on the phone — and it sounds like she’s on stage at a concert — I’m competing with whatever is way more interesting than my now cranky dose of reality that I’m delivering! I have officially arrived at cranky and crabby too. We ended the call deciding to table this conversation till tomorrow in person. But as I drove home I had a hard time shaking the cranky and crabby feeling. So, you know what? I’m going to think about Brooks and his insouciance and the dogs having a grand old time with a plain garden hose and take a leaf out of their book.PokemonClare Irwin